A parishioner of mine cultivates fig trees. We were given the gift in the late summer of some of this year's crop of fresh figs. Figs are a very special, seasonal delicacy. For those who grew up with fig trees, the anticipation of that moment when they are ripe is at once frustrating and mouthwatering. Why? Because figs are only in season for a short time. They are, at least in this climate, a vulnerable and finicky risk to plant in a garden. They require care and nurture: good feeding and wise pruning during the growing season and wrapping and preservation during the cold, dormant months. Still, a good fig...and my parishioner's figs are good...is worth the wait.
Figs, and fig trees, are also fertile images for Jesus as he seeks to teach us about the life, and values, of the Kingdom of God. When we wants to teach us about how to mark the signs of the inbreaking kingdom, as he does in this Sunday's teaching, he talks about the signs that spring is near, when the fig tree is just budding. The ends of the branches turn green and the buds, set from last fall, start to break and burst in order to allow new leaves to feed the plant and make real the promise of a future harvest. We are to be a people of watchful, observant hope
A barren fig tree, one that bears leaves but no fruit even out of season, is cursed and then withers. We are called to bear fruit worthy of the kingdom...no matter the time of the year. God expects us to be laden with deeply rich, ripe fruits as signs of the kingdom's values made manifest.
What better tool to use to foster that imagination that a delicate fig? I grew up in a part of the country where figs don't grow. I know the scent of apple, peach, and cherry blossoms. I know the succulence of those pitted fruits when they are ready to eat in the midsummer. I know the crisp, clean and sour grace of an apple picked fresh from a branch that is still sun-warm and frost-nipped in early autumn. That moment when the time is right, when the fruit is ripe is JUST the image Jesus is trying to get us to understand as what the sign of the kingdom will be like when it arrives.
Like my parishioner's fresh, ripe figs....the kingdom is sweet, soft, laden with the realized promise of all the love and care that went into its arrival and yet at the same time it is so much more. It is a moment when we can be no where else than here, and now.
We need that promise now, and it is important by God's grace to embrace the teaching of the signs of the kingdom. We need to be aware of the Advent of the Christ, in the midst of continual challenge to not just note the kingdom coming....but to BE the kingdom here and now. We need to be as aware of that as we are in the moment when we see the bud break as spring comes. We need to labor for the justice of Christ's kingdom as the dresser of fig trees labors for a sweet harvest.
Look around you, fellow orchard keeper. The signs are here, and the promise of the labor is pressing upon us. Let's cast off the darkness that clouds our imaginations and open ourselves to the grace of the inbreaking kingdom, and justice, of the kingdom of Christ.